In the Pursuit of Passion: Return to Mount Kennedy

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By Chelsea Chambers
Photos by Emma Thompson

“In between confidence and commitment, lies character.”
Christopher Kennedy

The Director

The ability to pursue our passions is one of the greatest aspects of human life; yet for many, there is a distinct difference between passion and career. For Eric Becker, who spent his college years studying public health, he lived vicariously through friends who chose their paths in art and film.

“It [film] always looked so fun,” Becker muses, recalling his undergrad days. But he pressed on in the world of public health. Combining his desire for art with his college education, Becker decided to pursue his film potential through public health works in Nicaragua. Prior to finishing his graduate degree, he moved to Maine and spent time working miscellaneous jobs in order to afford film and equipment to take on the trip. Once he raised enough money, he spent a period of time in Nicaragua and realized that public health and film could go hand-in-hand. It was this mindset that enabled him to launch into the world of directing.

With now a master’s degree in public health and some filming experience under his belt, Becker set out to make a difference, directing incredible documentaries like Honor the Treaties and A Higher Crawling.” The second film mentioned, A Higher Crawling, is actually a somewhat satirical short film about his baby climbing a mountain, haha! He did make this incredible documentary, A Life Well Lived, which is about Jim Whittaker and that film was actually how he became connected with Bob Whittaker. Following graduate school, Becker continued to travel to places like Sierra Leone, exploring the worlds of film and health.

In 2007, he moved to Seattle and by 2008 was working in the film industry. “I focused constantly on evolving my craft.” Now living in Boise with his wife, Marissa, and their child, Becker is a full-time director and producer, complete with his own in-home garage studio, which serves as the perfect space to both create film and show it off.

The Film

I sat in the converted garage/office with a half-full glass of Pinot, happily nibbling on popcorn and garden-plucked blackberries, scrawling notes in the dark. Return to Mount Kennedy was drawing to a close and I was now fully incapable of controlling the tears. A summer storm flashed lightning in the background and my fingers ached from taking notes so furiously. How else was I going to capture the many nuances of this film, the inter-weaving of life and death and friendship and family, the joys and hardships that conveyed themselves across Becker’s projected screen?

This film is a testament to human strength and a familial bond that spanned across generations. Return to Mount Kennedy tells the story of Bob Whittaker and his own pursuits to reenact a famous climb that his father, Jim Whittaker (CEO of REI), had taken 50 years earlier with Robert F. Kennedy, brother of the recently assassinated John F. Kennedy.

Bob, along with his brother Leif, and Christopher Kennedy (RFK’s son), ascend the heights of the rugged Mount Kennedy, a 14,000-foot summit in the Yukon, named in honor of JFK. Bob enlists the help of Eric Becker to accompany them and direct a film to commemorate the event that almost no one was prepared for (Leif is the only one with any real climbing experience).

Return to Mount Kennedy is a prime example of the evolution of film—more than just your typical climbing documentary, Return to Mount Kennedy shines a light on family, friendship, and our often underestimated ability to overcome. The time lapses are beautifully interspersed between 1965 and 2015, fully capturing the bond between Jim and Bobby [Kennedy], which is something untouchable by time or death.

Becker has undeniably succeeded in his pursuit of passion and was able to pack 50 years of legacy into a 71-minute film. With a distinct ability to tell a story, Becker peeled away the layers of history and humanity.

Bob Whittaker, who takes his name from the late Bobby [Robert] F. Kennedy, played an integral role in getting the Seattle grunge movement off the ground. Managing bands like Mudhoney and REM, it was unlikely that his pursuit of passion would be found in the frozen wilderness mountains of the Canadian Yukon.

And yet, he was driven by an urge to honor his father [Jim] and his namesake [RFK], proving that our pursuit of passion is truly one of the greatest things about the human experience.

“Three men with little to no climbing experience, one significantly more experienced, and two guides who had never climbed that particular mountain were digging holes in the snow to sleep. And we set off on the ascent,” says Becker.  “I was terrified. But it’s good to do stuff where you’re a little freaked out. That’s where you grow.”

Becker’s film tells the story of two families—the Whittakers and the Kennedys—in a truly beautiful blend of fatherhood, brotherhood, friendship, and grunge music. Return to Mount Kennedy helps transform the outdoor genre, evolving it beyond the traditional “alpha-male achievement” and into something that is both emotionally captivating and inspirational.

To learn more about the film and to check out upcoming screenings, visit http://mtkennedy.com.com